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November 24th, 2015
Has the app replaced the map as the means of geospatial information sharing?

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This may sound like a dated question, given the great many navigation transactions that are occurring through mobile applications. However, the widespread adoption of apps as a means to disseminate enterprise geospatial information is not as well entrenched.

Just this past week, Hexagon Geospatial launched Smart M.Apps and a cloud-based M.App Portfolio for the creation and publication of these portable maps. This of course joins the ArcGIS Online platform that delivers both apps and story maps. Both have a similar configuration, with a repository of data, analysis and visualization tools that greatly ease the creation of these apps as well as greatly improve their usefulness.

Compartmentalizing Content

Esri has pioneered some impressive functionality with their story maps platform and templates. While this robust map and information sharing format is served via web pages as well as apps, the distinction between the two isn’t always clear. Just like an app, the delivery of information within this rich interface compartmentalizes content and can deliver a tailored experience based on what you choose to click and explore. Another aspect is the dynamic nature of these new maps that provide a rich multimedia experience.

An app is often more than just data delivery as it can tie into other sensors and a smartphone’s connectivity to guide or to further inform. Esri has further muddied the meaning of an app as they continue to call ( such functionality as their new global visualization tool, ArcGIS Earth, an app. The distinction is that this functionality rides upon their platform of data and services built upon Web maps, Web scenes and Web layers.

Staying Simple

Above all aspects of these new apps are their simplicity. They are easier to create and to navigate. And they are designed to focus in on a specific problem or knowledge gap and to provide a solution or clarity of information.

At Hexagon Geospatial, a good part of the vision is to understand change. The Netherlands’ Kadaster organization, which collects and registers property information, has built an app for understanding dynamics of the real estate market. Change information dashboards distill the changes to help authorities as well as market players how land prices and uses are trending.

Innovation Avenue

The App is indeed a popular delivery mechanism for maps and geospatial information, and increasingly this is how new geospatial functionality is being introduced. It provides the means to further explore vertical market workflows, but to be built in a flexible manner that accepts ongoing data flows and pluggable further functionality.

To go along with this new functionality is a new appeal to developers to create their own combination of data, features and functionality. Many high-profile App Challenges have been created to urge developers to work with the functionality and the data to create an application to serve a need and to raise the profile of the platform. 

Newly Opened

The problem with Apps in the wider world of the Web is that they become dead ends for content as they break off their functionality from the search ability of the Internet in favor of a tailored user experience. This break is something that IT companies understand and have been combatting as it’s not in the interest of a good user experience to have an app that is cut off from a fresh flow of new information or to be found by a wider audience.

Google has steadily improved the ability to search within apps with open indexing in order to return the best possible answer regardless of where it lies. This development has big implications for returning map results along with regular search results, providing better returns for insight with geospatial context.

The move from apps to maps, and its corresponding dynamic experience, is an exciting development for improved use of geospatial information. The beauty of this delivery mechanism is a platform that continues to expand and that serves this information to our constantly evolving handheld devices. We may soon see apps that improve data collection with interactive community collecting and delivery via immersive virtual reality environments. Such added functionality builds on existing underpinnings as the future of mapping has a solid foundational platform.

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